The first recommendations from the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing are underway.
On Dec. 15, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) launched a new program aimed at matching business owners with property owners to provide more workforce housing.
The program's goal is to help businesses find stable homes for their staff, while encouraging homeowners to rent their properties through a streamlined, low-risk option.
"By providing property owners with the confidence and security that comes from signing a lease with a local business, we hope to add a number of long-term, stable housing options to Whistler's housing supply," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, in a release.
"Given the demand for housing currently outstrips the available supply, the task force would also like to encourage all homeowners who have a vacant room, suite or property to seriously consider joining the matching program to help house our workforce."
The program will be administered by the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) and managed by its licensed property manager.
Businesses and property owners can register for the matching program at www.whistlerhousing.ca starting Dec. 19.
The program was developed with input from the various task force stakeholders.
"This program will ultimately help community members working in Whistler by creating the opportunity for more housing options that have not been accessible so far," Wilhelm-Morden said in the release.
"Having our workforce housed is a priority toward ensuring quality of life as well as economic success, which benefits everyone."
The task force is also working on increasing investigations and enforcement of illegal nightly rentals, as well as planning for the launch of new business licensing for those operating legally.
So far it's too early to tell how the housing shortage is affecting staffing levels for local businesses, said Whistler Chamber of Commerce past-chair Grant Cousar.
"There's definitely talk of it, but we've had a difficult time quantifying it exactly at this point," Cousar said.
"I think as we move just a few more weeks into the ski season we'll probably get more solid talk of exactly where people are at, it just is a little bit early."
Some businesses, like the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside hotel, have got ahead of the curve this winter, staffing-wise, by increasing their stock of employee housing.
The hotel leased four houses this winter — in addition to about two-dozen beds already reserved for employees — to help attract staff for the winter, said general manager Lloyd Daser.
"If somebody comes into town and they have five job interviews, they're probably getting five job offers, and the biggest question they have is 'are you able to provide housing?'" Daser said, adding that the housing has helped attract staff "immensely."
"And it also makes for a happier workforce," he said. "They can focus on working and doing the job at hand and doing the reason they're here, which is go skiing and do all that sort of stuff."
A happier workforce also makes for a better experience for guests.
Wilhelm-Morden couldn't say if she's heard of any businesses missing out on staff due to housing, but "I've heard it from the other side of the equation — I've heard about guests complaining about service levels," she said in a Dec. 5 phone call.
"Now, I don't know if it's a training issue or if it's just not enough employees and people are stretched, it might be a little bit of both, but I have heard complaints from that side of the equation."
Is there concern that complaints such as those could negatively impact the resort in the long run?
"It's disappointing when I do hear complaints about service, because service is so critical to the guest experience, and boy, you come away with a lousy experience in a restaurant or something like that and that stays with you," Wilhelm-Morden said.
"It really is contrary to everything we've been working so hard to accomplish."
The Chamber of Commerce is doing a good job with its Whistler Experience program, the mayor said, and the housing issue plays into the attraction of new employees.
"I see the business community is stepping up with securing housing for their employees, and so we want to see more of that," she said.
"So there are steps that can be taken for sure."